DIVERGENT EARTH (2):
We were safe, I think. That’s the important thing. Away from the filthy streets, the roadblocks, and giant robots that nearly blasted us to dust. Kevin and I could rest, eat and recover… even if it meant sharing space with a most dreaded enemy.
Dr. Fellows approached Kevin and I with a pair of mason jars filled with a dark, steaming amber liquid. He set them down on the makeshift table, once an industrial spool for copper wiring, and smiled in a way that shouldn’t have been possible for that face.
“Would you like sugar?” he offered. “I don’t have any cream, unfortunately. Dairy is in short supply around here.”
This was not the Dr. Fellows that I knew and loathed; the impetuous engineer for whom ego took second place to human life. Instead he was like Mr. Rogers; soft spoken in good company, and polite to boot. How such a cruel world turned such a wicked man kind was a mystery for the ages.
The tea was good, though we drank cautiously. ‘Teddy’ as he called himself was no doubt aware of our suspicion, but was understanding. The things he knew, the things he’d seen, dwarfed our experience in comparison.
He scuttled back and forth between the corners of the storage locker he called a base, and did his best to arrange the clutter. “You’ll have to forgive me,” he said. “Being an enemy of the state I don’t often get to entertain.”
Kevin leaned to whisper in my ear. “He’s not like Theodora at all!”
A disorganised pile of devices sat piled upon his work station with cases discarded down the side. He’d taken them apart, rebuilt them as something new, and taken them apart again for some other purpose. Though his supplies were limited he made the most of them, bending space and time with stolen pieces like some sort of garbage wizard.
I’d feel bad for him… if it weren’t for that face.
“Why did the police attack us?” I asked.
Dr. Fellows paused, searching for an answer as though it were sitting on the counter, before deciding to seat himself on a small crate. “Those were not police,” he explained. “The police are public brokers that negotiate peace between the great corporations, and otherwise employed to keep the rabble in check.”
Kevin frowned. “But if those weren’t cops…”
“InfiniTech private security,” the doctor continued. “I’m not certain how things work in your home, but money is the word of law, and InfiniTech has the monopoly in Milestone.”
His shoulders crept up his neck, as though guilt were about to swallow him whole. Jeez, the guy was a mess. Black, heavy eyes blinked slowly, stealing a moment of respite, before he dragged them open again. He clutched to the edges of his seat. His mind wouldn’t let him rest, no matter how much his body begged.
“What do InfiniTech want with us?” I asked.
“As far as they’re concerned you are their property,” he said. “A product of their technology, copyrighted in the name of profit. Your counterpart, Laser Lass, formed an agreement with InfiniTech, and was recruited into their private security.”
Kevin almost spat out his tea. “Laser Lass? Seriously?”
“Look who’s talking, ‘Blitz Boy’,” I teased. He stopped laughing.
A chill ran down my arms. In another life I was the bad guy, just like the version of Captain Ortega piloting that robot. The idea turned my stomach. How could anybody be okay to live in this world, let alone me? I buried my face in my gloves and groaned. I missed home.
“So why are they after you?” Kevin asked.
Dr. Fellows sighed. “For the same reason. The incident that created Glimmer Girl was triggered by technology I developed, which InfiniTech patented after. I’ve done my best to resist them, even became the Portal Man, but-”
“Wait, ‘Portal Man’?” Kevin grinned.
I stifled a laugh. “Sorry, but that’s pretty cheesy.”
Teddy sat upright, flustered. “Well, what name do I use in your world?”
“Dr. Vortex,” I said.
The doctor thought upon it for a moment, and nodded. “Actually, I rather prefer that title. Perhaps I should-”
“No!” Kevin and I declared in unison. The last thing the multiverse needed was another Dr. Vortex, even a good one.
Dismissing the thought, Teddy stood and turned for his counter. “All the same I need to return you home,” he said, “and learn the location of that blasted Laser Lass!” The tone in his voice was – not quite contemptuous – but laden with a revulsion was all too familiar. Knowing these feelings, it was hard to call this man an ally.
That said, there was nothing I wouldn’t do to make it home again.
There was a time when Milestone was not a city. In its place as a town, little more than a handful of streets and homesteads, leading to a prestigious university largely out of place in a recently conquered frontier. It was upon drawing some of the greatest developing minds of the day that industry followed, and soon after an urban sprawl that stretched to the horizon.
The Red Wraith stood, just as the explorers did, upon a high perch with one foot set to climb the next plateau. A sparse number of muted stars survived the light pollution from below, and many in turn were shrouded by wisps of clouds crawling above. Traffic moved freely now; rush hour ended at least an hour ago, and all was quiet among the rooftops.
“A world of opposites,” he mused. “Good is evil, evil is good. Imagine the possibilities!”
Laser Lass scoffed. “For one, not evil,” she said. “I do what I have to in order to get ahead. If that means stepping on some chumps, so be it. Second, keep your possibilities to yourself. I don’t belong in this hypocrite’s paradise, so I’m going home.”
The villain smiled. “‘Hypocrite’s paradise’. Oh, I like that one. I’m going to use it.”
“It’s a free country,” she said with disdain.
He studied her with a curious eye. Like the Glimmer Girl with which he was familiar, her sarcasm deepened with exasperation. Laser Lass, however, seemed to possess no patience for anything that ran counter to her wishes, including himself. Her aura was of menace, a warning to others not to come close lest they be burned; the fiery devil to her counterpart’s angelic presence.
“With you in place of your… lesser self…” Associating the two women earned a sharp look. “…There would be little to stand in the way. This city would become our oyster!”
“Or perhaps you could come to my world to undo the world of your civic-minded other self,” she remarked. “I have so much power in my world. More than lasers, flights and tights. You must think I’m some kind of idiot to give all that up.”
The Red Wraith shrugged. “I didn’t know.”
“And now you do.” The doppelganger unfolded her arms and pressed her companion to the edge by sheer power of presence. Her eyes did not waver from him. “All I want is to return home. Either you help me, or you don’t.”
Capable as he was in single combat, the Red Wraith raised his hands in defeat. “I can live with a temporary alliance,” he said, “and the path back to your world is the next item on my list.”
“So long as I get what I want,” she said.
Laser Lass offered her hand, and he took it. An uneasy alliance, perhaps, but two were stronger than one.
“Perhaps as a sign of good faith you could tell me your name under that mask,” he said.
Laser Lass pulled her hand away, and in a shower of light she lifted from the roof.
“Don’t push your luck.”
DIVERGENT EARTH (2):
Thank the gods that Kevin was there, or I would have lost my mind. Jumping from universe to universe was one thing, but having to do it alone would have been so much worse. I slipped my hand out of its glove, and took his hand. He squeezed back, like I imagine a brother would; or at least a brother you like. Weird that we’d known each other for all of two days, and already we were best friends.
“My go-to cheer up food is cheesy crust pepperoni pizza,” he said.
“And then you dip the crust in ranch sauce?”
The way he lit up told me he did the same. More than powers, more than saving the world, it was the little things that brought us together. My brother from another mother, who in his world was my dad, or… whatever. Saying goodbye was going to suck.
Dr. Vortex, or I guess the Portal Man, buttoned his coat and pulled the collar tight. He eased his shoulders back, slowed his breathing, and set his goggles on the untarnished concrete wall before us. Maybe I should have been glad he was on our side, but the ripples from his glove turned my stomach.
“My tech is housed in a sub-basement under the InfiniTech building,” he explained. “We can bypass the majority of their forces by portal, but they will detect our arrival. Security will follow in force. Your task will be to hold them at bay while I assemble the means of your return.”
Kevin squeezed tighter. “You sure we can trust him?”
The Portal Man frowned with concern, though not the kind that was his brand. This Dr. Fellows was burdened with fear for those around him. His eyes all but pleaded with Kevin and I to stay safe.
“He’s the opposite of Dr. Vortex in every way,” I said. “I’d trust him with my life.”
With a silent blink the environment changed; one moment an enclosed storage space, and the next an open chamber with platforms and machines assembled around a series of interwoven rings.
My blood ran cold, and I was back in that warehouse shackled to a standing bed while Dr. Vortex went about his business. Memory had done little to mute the agonizing pull of his device that tore me apart from the inside. Only when the hail of bullets rang out did I snap back to reality.
Blitz Boy and I soared across the platforms and pulled the first set of guards over the rails. They’d survive the fall, but it would hurt. Maybe it was the dystopian nightmare we were in, but I didn’t feel so guilty.
“You okay?” Blitz Boy called between blasts.
I didn’t answer. A cold numb suppressed any feelings I had. All that existed in my mind was guard after guard, lined up like ducks in a blow. I’d blast them for as long as it took, until I was safe in the bed of my dorm.
The machine pulsed to life. I couldn’t look, but was all too aware of the churning gears. The air crackled so that hairs stood on end while the omnipresent hum rattled through my chest. My heart ran out of control.
All we had to do was survive. We were going home!
Guilt wormed knots through the stomach of Dr. Stefanie Storm. What she planned – what she had set in motion – ran counter to everything she was as a scientist. Once, playfully, she referred to herself as an ‘informationaut’; a title to which she no longer had claim. Yet the task at hand was vital. Humanity, and least of all their governments, did not deserve the level of power they toyed with.
Theodore Fellows, whether he’d known it or not, or if he’d particularly cared, had changed the world with his insight. What knowledge he had birthed, though secreted away by the powers that be, opened them to a host of universes to explore – or to be exploited. To date the technology only existed to perpetuate suffering, and would only be utilized for more of the same.
“Destroy it,” she said, and was the first to bring a crowbar down on the main system.
There would be an investigation, of course; and Agent Finch would prove beyond reasonable doubt that the good doctor ordered the moving of equipment to an InfiniTech facility without the consent of her partners in the government. She would likely then plead to a military panel on charges of treason that she acted out of conscience, and the conscience of all her fellow Americans present and future, and it would be the truth, but her words would fall on deaf ears.
A team consisting of two dozen men and women set to work dismantling the larger pieces. The large, gyrating loops – once part of a device intended to measure the movement of gravitons – proved the most vital piece, and the most difficult to deconstruct safely. It required the use of a small crane to dislodge them individually, lest they fall free and crush someone beneath.
They worked with haste, aware that government men would appear in no time at all to claim the thing. So consumed were they with the task at hand that none stopped to realize that a thin, scarlet smoke poured through the vents, or that the bolts they unscrewed were doing so in silence.
Dr. Storm paused, but by then it was too late. A sharp pain shot through her neck, followed by a wave of dizziness. She swayed on her feet, and watched her colleagues topple through a mirage. Finally she lost consciousness, and crashed to the ground.
Had she been lucid in the last few moments she might have dreaded a worse realisation than what the government had in store. Had she turned to the rafters she might have been aware of the black clad figure armed with a shotgun, the pale facsimile of Glimmer Girl who burst from their black site, and the congealing of smoke into The Red Wraith.
But she wasn’t, and she didn’t.
The three descended to the ground, Mute arm in arm with Laser Lass, and stepped with care between the bodies. Every so often The Red Wraith would stop and roll one over onto their side.
“Don’t want them to swallow their tongues, the poor dears.”
Laser Lass sneered. “Why do you care? They were standing in your way.”
The villain erected himself with pride. “I, my dear, am an honourable criminal, and a murderer. It would be unbecoming to deny one the dignity of seeing their death before it comes.”
She laughed and turned to the androgynous shooter. “He serious?”
They rolled their eyes and nodded. Nothing was more serious than The Red Wraith’s nonsense.
Bounding up the stairs to the central platform The Red Wraith inspected the interfixed rings, only one of which had been loosened. His palms ran over the gleaming chrome with a child’s wonder. It was love at first sight; the potential of countless worlds embodied in one large, yet still humble device.
“Our crew will be arriving presently,” he announced. “And once we’ve moved we can start the business of returning you, Laser Lass, to your home dimension.”
“After we’ve dealt with their reinforcements,” she said.
The Red Wraith flashed a wicked grin. “Oh, yes. A merry sideshow if ever there was one. And I promise you, they will see death coming.”
DIVERGENT EARTH (2):
If there’s one thing I’ll never get used to it’s being shot at. Big guns or little guns, handguns or rifles, sometimes the odd rocket launcher; every time I pull the trigger it explodes with the sound of hate – the willing of death by projectile force. Bad enough the world hated trans people, a heaping of rogues and militants was the last thing I needed.
At least I could take it. One advantage of being an adept, I guess.
Captain Ortega appeared in the loading bay in a uniform like bad Nazi cosplay. He sat on a wheeled mount and roared with mini-gun fire herding Blitz Boy and I into the far corner. The look on his face was one I would never forget; flushed with fury, sweat steaming off his brow, charged with a malice so primal that it belonged to no human.
A hand snatched my arm, and in a blink I was behind cover. The Portal Man blinked away again, this time to transport Ortega and the weapon from the ground and let gravity destroy them. Before enemy support arrived the doctor was transported again, now back to my side.
“You can’t freeze like that,” he said. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”
A wash of cold flooded over my body. Ortega’s expression was one that lived in my nightmares and that I prayed never to see. It took jumping to another universe to be victim to it, and the target of a once unsteady ally gone to war.
“He’s not the man you knew,” the doctor pressed. “Like everyone in this world he is the product of an evolutionary chain that values aggression over compassion. Your world avoided that to a degree, but you cannot allow the fact to compromise you.”
Three seconds. That’s all the fear I would allow myself. The doctor was right. I swallowed and shot into the air, and positioned myself against Blitz Boy’s back. We scanned the room, picking off intruders with holo-projected power, and we would do it for as long as it takes.
For our friends, for our families, for our homes, and for ourselves.
“Where the hell have you been?” he roared.
“No banter! Just fire!”
The hoarde of guards were endless, as were the bullets pinging off the walls. Smoke and dirt filled the air, thick with the scent of burning. These people seemed to thrive on it, while my anxiety soared to peak levels.
A deep hum cut through the space, undercutting the sound of gunfire. They stopped shooting, blinded by the arc lightning that crawled along every corner. Soldiers resisted the pull of the sudden twisting space that appeared at the heart of machine, threatening them with oblivion and all points beyond. The doorway between universes stood open like a rippling pool in defiance of gravity.
Dr. Fellows screamed for us to go, and we did. To think that I was thankful to him, and that in some distant reality he was a decent person. Wonders never ceased.
We passed through the portal, and a sharp tingle passed through me. Radiant energy filled our senses as matter passed from one plane onto another. And like that it was done. We were on the other side.
Blitz Boy was there, holding my hand through it all.
The chamber was little different to the one we’d escaped, except… bodies. I soared to the ground to the first figure in reach and overturned a stout woman with purple hair. It was Dr. Storm – my Dr. Storm – and thank the gods she was still breathing.
‘She’s alive,’ I wanted to say, but no words left my mouth. Oh, crap.
Mute silently unloaded a rifle clip from above. I dashed across the room away from the sleeping bystanders. Bullets embedded themselves in the wall as I moved, hot on my heels. Still not crazy about being shot at!
Blitz Boy had my back. Swinging below he snatched the gunner by the ankles and pulled them off balance. The wave of anti-sound they generated stopped before their chin hit the rail, and let out a satisfying clunk as they fell. With one shot Mute was out cold.
Too bad they weren’t alone.
A woman exploded from the corner on a beam of light and with a furious grunt slammed me into the corner. She gripped the neck of my costume in her fist and with the other pounded my face. Then she let go, just in time to counter Blitz Boy’s rush. I fell to the ground, dazed for a moment, and tried to make sense of her. Gods, she was like some bad ‘Glimmer Goth’ cosplay.
Blitz Boy crashed into a terminal on the other side of the room. Lady clone whipped back with a furious scowl. She fought dirty; dirty enough that she could stand up to two on one.
“So you’re Glimmer Girl,” she said. “We’ve never even met and I hate everything about you.”
I winced. “Laser Lass, right? I just came from your hometown. Real hellhole. You deserve each other.”
“You think you’re so fun-”
Blitz Boy flew back with a vengeance and knocked her to the ground with a haymaker. Who cares if it was a suckerpunch? She had it coming.
“How come we’ve got to fight your evil twin?” he asked. “Why couldn’t it have been mine? ‘Blitz Boy versus Starburn’!”
Goofy jokes aside, we had work to do.
“You keep her distracted! I’ll start moving people!”
And just like that we had a plan. Laser Lass recovered, and Blitz Boy was into her with a flurry of blows. He didn’t hold back because she was a girl; she could give as well as take.
I dashed to Dr. Storm’s side and scooped her into my arms. She wasn’t easy to move without a surge of power to lift us both. Surviving a dystopian world was exhausting enough before carrying at least twenty people to a safe distance. The night just kept on giving.
Laser Lass cut into Blitz Boy with wide, slashing blows of energy. He writhed and convulsed, absorbing the pain like something half dead, and she lavished every second. It took everything I had not to fly at her. She turned, hungry for the chance to punish me for existing, but every time Blitz Boy lunged and dragged her back.
After carrying another four bodies to the edge of an underground security gate Dr. Storm began to stir. I set her colleague down, and leaned at her side.
“It’s alright,” I said. “You’re safe.”
She reached for my arm and pulled like a tired drunk. “Yougottades… dessstroy it… the machine… Doc-tor Vorrr-tex…”
A weight dropped inside my chest. Did she really know what she was asking? “I can’t. We still need it.”
“You haff to,” she slurred. “You hafto!”
I didn’t expect her to explain. She wouldn’t have asked if it weren’t important. I turned back to Blitz Boy, still taking the heat, and weighed the action in my head. He would never forgive me if I trapped him here; no more than I could forgive him if I was trapped in his.
Dr. Storm flirted with consciousness until she drifted back. She didn’t even give me the chance to say no.
An unholy roar burst through the corridor, calling me back. I raced to the chamber, ready to fight, but what I saw left me floating in horror. Laser Lass lifted through the air with hands around Kevin’s throat. He wheezed and flailed, and was before long an emaciated husk with lightning pouring from him. Soon he wasn’t even that; his remains faded from existence and joined the now flaming aura of our enemy.
Gods help me. Blitz Boy was gone. I was alone and outclassed.
The supervillain twitched. Her flesh stretched and cracked, barely able to contain her. She laughed an hysterical laugh, and turned her sights on me.
“If I knew… I could do this… how good it felt… I would have done it years ago!”
“What did you do?”
Laser Lass said nothing. Instead she charged through the air, ignoring every one of my laser blasts. She was the unstoppable force, and last I checked I was a very moveable object. My breath stopped when she caught my throat and gasped for dear life. At first my overpowered double seemed to be mocking my attempts for air, only for the raging power to radiate from the back of her throat.
Lightning jumped, and she swallowed every bit. Strength flowed out from my body, just like it did in Dr. Vortex’s lab. My mind raced a mile a minute, torn between two places – the past and the present. My power became her power, and my awareness was as nothing.
The last I heard was her decree. “Maybe I will stay in this world…”
Supernatural energy surged through her limbs, stretching her wider and taller, increasing mass by an exponential margin. A new costume formed along the length of her, complete with crown and cloak.
“But I am no longer ‘Laser Lass’,” she said. “From this day I rule as Lady Lumina!”
Gods help us…
To be concluded…